Learning how to grow brussel sprouts isn’t as hard as you might think. Brussels sprouts belong to the species Brassica Oleraceae, which includes cabbages broccoli calabrese and cauliflowers. Thus they grow from small, round, black seeds. You’ll be interested to learn sprouts are just mini-cabbages. They are a long-maturing, traditionally winter vegetable, but various cultivars have in recent decades been bred to allow for an extended period of cropping.
Most sprouts are green, but there are reddish-purple varieties, one of which I grew last year, which cropped well.
Planting Your Sprouts
You can plant them in mid-spring on ground vacated by harvested peas and beans. Members of the Brassica family require a soil pH of about 7, so they like a bit of lime. If you have acid soil, give a top dressing of lime, not overmuch, just thinly. If you’re unsure about your soils pH levels, we’d recommend checking with a soil measuring meter.
Begin by digging and preparing a bed. The soil should be well-hoed and clear of weeds, particularly large ones. Sprouts are like all brassicas quite demanding on soil nutrients, so the bed needs to be fertile. Apply a base dressing about ten days before planting. This could be a balanced fertilizer, or it could be manure. It is vital that the manure be well-rotted and not freshly applied immediately before planting; otherwise, the sprouts suffer. I like to use pelleted chicken manure.
Sow seeds under cover in late winter or early spring and maintain at a temperature of 18C. Then after germination, keep at a 10C temperature. If the seeds were sown thickly in a seed tray thin out the redundant ones. Transplant to modules at least 5cm deep, this ensures the development of a firm taproot, which will prevent the plants from keeling over. These can be planted out in early to mid spring. These early sowings give you an earlier crop.
If you purchase seedlings from a nursery or garden center plant them out in early to mid spring. There are dwarf varieties that should be planted 75cm apart, whereas standard types need to be 90cm apart, that is about 3 feet. This is because sprouts are large plants that need much space.
Growing Brussel Sprouts
Sprout growers need to accept that there will be a long growing season, so the sprout bed will need tending to over a long period, up to mid to late December.
The tending is quite standard — hoe between the plants to keep weeds down. In late April to May give the sprouts a top dressing of a balanced fertilizer, following the instructions on the packet as to dosage per square meter. You can use seaweed meal, or you can include liquid seaweed in the water that you give them.
After you have given the top dressing, you can lay down a mulch between the plants as a weed suppressant. One good mulch is cardboard made from torn up boxes. Weighted down, it suppresses weeds and water passes through as it becomes soggy. It is biodegradable.
Sprouts don’t need watering daily, but a good soaking every four to five days is well sufficient.
Stopping consists of removing the top sprout. This makes all the rest of the sprouts mature at the same time, which is necessary if you intend to freeze them.
If there is any problem, it is birds. Some species of birds attack young brassica plants by pecking at the leaves, leaving them a mass of shreds. I have found serious problems with wood pigeons, which have forced me to net all my brassicas, including my sprouts. I made a cage out of net and cane. It worked. This also helped to keep the cabbage white butterfly from laying eggs on the sprouts.
Pick when the sprouts are ready, but don’t let their leaves begin to unfurl.
Considerations For Growing Brussel Sprouts
All brassicas are vulnerable to club root, a fungal disease. Do not plant in the ground where clubroot has been present. The best defense is to lime your soil, as club root does not like lime. Alternatively, grow brassicas in raised beds made with fresh compost.
- Grow Your Own Vegetables, Joy Larkcom, Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2002.